- Size: 34 x 41.5 x 10.7mm
- Case Material: Stainless Steel
- Movement: 9F61 In-house, Quartz
- Water Resistance: “Splash”
- Strap: Leather, 18mm
- Price: $3,300
I appreciate the craftsmanship and value of Japanese luxury watch manufacturer Grand Seiko. However, the nearest Grand Seiko retailer is two hours away. That makes it hard to connect with the brand due to the lack of access. I can hop in the car and drive fifteen minutes and try on a Breitling, Rolex (in theory), Panerai, or even an Oris. Grand Seiko often becomes an afterthought for me due to the lack of convenience.
The endless hyping of social media influencers, limited edition dials with overly complex backstories, sub-par bracelets, and the large modern 44GS case have also turned me away from the brand. There hasn’t been a single watch within Grand Seiko’s various lines that spoke to me. Sure, elements of Grand Seiko craftsmanship are industry-leading in its price category. I understand all that. The missing element was that Grand Seiko failed to offer a purpose-driven watch that connected with me. Those feelings changed with the Grand Seiko SBGX347 and SBGX349.
Grand Seiko tossed the rigid, overly simplistic marketing strategy of Boy = Blue / Girl = Pink out the window with its marketing for these two watches by simply using a 34 mm case for both. There is no mighty trumpet call to masculinity or an awkward, delicate, sexually suggestive dance of femininity. These are just watches. With the constriction of gender removed, the SBGX347 and SBGX349 are free for maximum versatility – ultimately opening up increased wearing opportunities for the owner.
The SBGX’s lugs are not flat in the least. On a 33 or 34mm vintage watch, you will usually find proportionally long, straight lugs. Grand Seiko’s decision to aggressively slope the lugs on a 34mm watch adds to its versatility. The SBGX could be worn on a very small wrist but it still looks great on average-sized wrists. To keep things compact, the smooth bezel sits low relative to the the case flanks and lugs. The entire case is polished without the contrast of brushed surfaces so the nuance of its case elements may go unnoticed at first. Be sure to bring a 10x loupe if you are going to check out a Grand Seiko in person.
The water-resistance of the SBGX347 and SBGX349 are listed as “splash resistant.” In layman’s terms, “it’s OK to wash your hands wear the watch, but that’s about it”. That’s completely fine as you’d be wearing a watch like this to work or dinner. Not the beach.
I can’t help but imagine a hypothetical precious metal version of the 34mm SBGX. Grand Seiko’s pricing structure would place such a watch around $15,000-$18,000. There is stiff competition in this category. For example, the Cartier Santos-Dumont is $12,400 in rose gold (quartz/large).
Grand Seiko’s catalog is filled with ornate dials, especially in its limited-edition models. While the masterful Japanese craftsmanship of interpreting the seventh day of spring while brewing Shincha tea, interpreted through a watch’s dial, is appreciated… those sorts of narratives are not always necessary and frankly have gotten a bit stale. The cordial white and blue dials of the SBGX347 and SBGX349 are refreshing and don’t call for lengthy tales of mountains and seas.
There is a pearl-like treatment to both the blue and white dials that provides just enough luster to let you know that Grand Seiko is special. To see the effect detail you will need some magnification and the right light. Any Grand Seiko retailer will be happy to assist you with this. It’s a real treat.
Luxury watches tend to overdo it on the abundance dial text. Grand Seiko is not usually guilty of overcrowding dial text and the SBGX347 and SBGX349 are good examples. There is a GS logo over the Grand Seiko text, and then nothing. Well, almost nothing. “Made in Japan” and the movement reference are printed on the dial below, and to the left of the six o’clock hour marker. You may need to squint to see it. You surely won’t notice it.
As per most of its watches, Grand Seiko Hands and hour markers are diamond cut with the utmost precision. The hands are so well polished that lume is not needed. Grand Seiko hands and hour markers will catch the faintest bit of light for legibility.
A quartz movement might seem boring to some, or even down market but I assure you that the Grand Seiko caliber 9F61 is neither. To start, Grand Seiko designed the caliber 9F61 for no-date watches. At a glance, the 9F61 looks almost identical to the to the 9F62 (date version). Both quartz movements are jeweled movements and the finishing is similar to a mechanical movement. The 9F’s are not throwaways like most quartz movements. During service, Grand Seiko disassembles, cleans, lubricates, makes repairs and adjustments as required, before re-casing the movement – just as it would a mechanical watch. It’s nice to know that the craftsmanship is there, but the caseback is closed so the 9F61 is not on daily display.
The level of precision achieved by Grand Seiko in their 9F quartz moments is better than any mechanical Rolex. The caliber 9F61 is accurate to +/-ten seconds per year thanks to its careful regulation and thermocompensation. Quartz watches tend to be thrown off by temperature variations. For example, you may notice the clock in your car to be slightly “off” as we shift from a brisk fall into frigid winter. Premium quartz movements are thermocompensated to avoid that problem. The 9F quartz also has much more torque than a budget quartz movement. The torque is also similar to the level at a mechanical movement. This is necessary to provide enough muscle for Grand Seiko to push its characteristically wide and meticulously finished dauphine hands around the dial.
I love the quartz movement because I see the Grand Seiko SBGX347 as a dress watch. When I need to get dressed up, I always seem to be rushing to get out of the door. I am someone that cares about watches (too much). I don’t have to worry about setting the time (to the second) or date. Grand Seiko quartz watches provide the ultimate grab-and-go timepiece because they are executed at a higher level. The easiest way to demonstrate the higher level of Grand Seiko quartz is by experiencing it. If you don’t live near a Grand Seiko retailer, you’ll have to settle for YouTube. What you need to look for is the precision of the second hand hitting every second marker with pinpoint accuracy. The is no backlash (wiggle) during the “tick” thanks to a tiny spiral spring (it looks like a balance spring). It’s like watching a golfer take the perfect swing and make a hole in one on every shot. The use of high precision quartz allows Grand Seiko to provide both precision and accuracy. The 9F61 is no loud and sloppy Timex.
The (Lack Of) Bracelet
Grand Seiko does not offer a bracelet on the SBGX347 and SBGX349. I always buy watches on bracelets. However, those have been sports watches. As aforementioned, the SBGX347 and SBGX349 are dress watches and are only available on crocodile leather. Grand Seiko does not start with cowhide and then stamp the leather to get the scaly pattern. These Grand Seiko straps are real crocodile skin, expertly worked, and extremely comfortable to wear. It should be noted that there is calfskin on the underside of the strap for comfort.
The leather strap tapers from 18mm at the lugs to 16mm at the buckle. The scaly crocodile pattern tapers slightly in parallel. Jean Rousseau is a master of nailing natural leather pattern proportions and should be regarded as the barometer. A 2.5mm thickness is maintained throughout the entire length of the strap. The steel tang-style buckle is high quality and has “Grand Seiko” machined into it. At this price point, anything less would be unacceptable.
I thought that the leather strap on the SBGX247 was black from the press photos and digital renders. It’s not, it’s actually grey which may make it a little more flexible when matching outfits. I’m no expert on matching leather bands with my outfit and the blue leather on the SBGX349 seems a loud choice on Grand Seiko’s part. I’m not sure what I would match this bluer than blue strap with. In reality, I’d change it for a brown or tan leather strap and try to match my shoes. With the emphasis on “try”.
I recommend the Grand Seiko SBGX347 or SBGX349 as the third watch for an enthusiast that has already had a rugged tool watch or two in their collections. In particular, the SBGX347 is my top choice of the two due to its monochromatic versatility. In contrast, the SBGX349’s dramatically blue dial and strap have an undeniable flair that the vanilla SBG347 lacks. Either way, you’d be hard-pressed to go wrong.